Why I Didn’t Change My Last Name When I Got Married

Why I Didn't Change My Last Name When I Got Married | Trés Belle
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This is the story of why I didn’t change my last name when I got married. Can I be honest, y’all? It took me awhile to decide whether or not to publish this because I was afraid it might make others feel judged. Like that feeling you get when your friend who’s doing Whole30 starts talking about how sugar is the devil right after you’ve scarfed down 10 pieces of leftover Halloween candy. That’s not the point of this post. Every person should be able to decide what their name will be, free of judgment. The reason I’m writing this is because I hope it will at least make people think about something that we take for granted as a societal norm. I hope that if someone out there feels incredibly uncertain and torn about whether they want to change their name when they get married, they can get a firsthand perspective from someone who’s totally been there. 

A little back story here: I deliberated over this decision for literally YEARS. I thought about it before getting engaged, while we were engaged, and even after I got married. That’s right, I didn’t make up mind about what the heck my last name was until nearly eight months after I got married. It was a touch decision, and there were lots of things to think through. In our culture, it is more or less assumed that a woman such as myself will take her husband’s last name at marriage (more on that below). I mean, I was totally one of those girls growing up who would “try on” my crush’s last name to see how it fit with my first name. I know many of you ladies out there did the same thing, so don’t be bashful.

I was so torn up over this decision, I tried to compromise at first. I thought I could sort of keep my name while also sort of changing it. It went something like this: I would not legally change it, and I would still be called by my original name at work, but it was okay if, in social settings, people referred to me as by my married name. This ambiguous name situation did not work for me. I often felt confused about how to introduce myself. I sometimes felt a little hateful when people would call me by my husband’s last name, and I try to avoid feeling hateful as much as possible. A decision was finally reached.

So, here’s why I ultimately made the choice to not change my last name when I got married:

  1. It didn’t feel right. The biggest pull for me to keep my last name when I got married was that, on a gut instinct level, it just felt right….and Wes’s last name didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I love Wes’s last name, but I felt like an imposter trying to call myself by that name. That wasn’t my name. This is who I’ve always been and it’s who I always will be. My core identity as a person did not change when I got married, and I still think of myself as the same old Laura (albeit now with a sparkly band on my left hand and wordy legal document binding me to my smokin’ hot fella). I’m sure if I had signed my name with Wes’s last name and heard myself called that enough by others, I would have eventually grown used to it, but it just didn’t feel right. And I’m okay with that.
  2. I love my name. It’s true. I adore my last name! I get compliments on how beautiful my name is everywhere I go. Nothing against my husband’s last name–that’s a fine name–but I don’t feel the same way about it as I feel about my own.
  3. It felt sexist. It’s not often talked about, but coverture is the reason why it became commonplace in English (and consequently, American) culture for women to assume their husband’s surname. Coverture refers to the legal doctrine whereby a man assumed his wife’s legal rights upon marriage. In other words, women essentially became the property of their husbands and had no rights, no legal voice, no standing under the law. While I realize that in American society today coverture (thankfully) does not exist and most women take their husband’s last name purely out of tradition rather than as a sign of deferred legal standing, it still just didn’t sit right with my feminist heart. Why would I want to carry a symbol of coverture around on the end of my name? What kind of message does this convey to others about gender equality?
  4. I understand why a couple would want to share the same last name, but….. I don’t think that necessarily means the woman should have to change hers. As mentioned in #3 above, coverture is no longer. So why should it always have to be the woman who changes her name? If you’re going to entertain the idea of sharing a last name (which I am totally on board with), then both people in the relationship need to be willing to consider a last name change. Yes, this means that opposite-sex couples should consider whether the man should take the woman’s last name in addition to whether the woman should consider taking the man’s last name.  Same-sex couples have also led the charge on combined or hyphenated last names, and I think these are great options as well. Wes and I discussed all of these things. Neither of us particularly loved Wes’s name with my last name. Hypenating seemed lengthy and cumbersome, and combining our last names yielded tragically humorous results. Bottom line: there are many options when it comes to sharing a last name, and if your significant other (particularly if your significant other is a male) won’t even consider a discussion about changing their last name to yours, it’s time to question whether they really value you as an equal partner.
  5. I’m not buying the “I want to have the same last name as my kids” argument. Who says I won’t have the same last name as my kids if I don’t change my last name? Maybe the kids will take my last name instead of Wes’s. Shocker! Or maybe they’ll have a hyphenated last name. Regardless of what Wes and I decide to name our children if and when we have kids, the point is that there are, again, many possibilities. So can we stop assuming that the kids will take the man’s last name, already?

So there you have it. My thoughts on my name not-change. Again, everyone has their own reasons, and I respect that. I’m not trying to call anyone out. I do hope this might help other lovely ladies who are considering whether or not to take the name change plunge.

xoxo Laura

P.S. – If there are others out there with name change (or non-change) experiences that they want to share, I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

0 thoughts on “Why I Didn’t Change My Last Name When I Got Married

  1. Great topic of discussion Laura! I’m right there with you. I labored over the decision literally for months and months and also gave a shot at not legally changing my name but somehow trying to use, live, be either or both. Of course that just ended up being confusing for me and people I interacted with. I hated then, and still hate now, that I felt that I had to chose. Both names felt like part of my identity. I am still a part of my family of origin (Stewart) but am also part of the family I am creating with my husband and little boy (Cissokho). I didn’t want to feel separated by name from either family but on a daily basis I was faced with circumstances where I had to either chose or seriously confuse. It is not a part of my husbands culture to legally change your name and somehow society there is flexible enough to to truly allow women to use both names interchangeably. Alas, here in the US the desire to satisfy the judgment of US immigration won out and I made the change. I’ll say that 6 years later it still feels strange and less than genuine to use this name, and I still feel heat in my veins when family members make comments about how I “used to be a Stewart” as if I’ve divorced myself from the family. So, cheers to you Ms. Jasmine, for making the right choice for you, and to all women for navigating a still quite sexist society with grace and wisdom

    1. Thanks for sharing, Hilary! I had not really thought about it until reading your comment, but you’re right that our culture forces us to choose one family name, when in reality many of us belong to more than one family. I hate that you had to choose between two names when both of them meant so much to you!

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